While “Bloody Mary” is a name that didn´t come about until after the death of the woman it´s said to describe, Mary I, and it maybe was an unfair epitaph, there is no avoiding the fact that there were substantial religious persecutions during her reign, much more so than during the brother that preceded her or the sister that succeeded her.
Of all the martyrs she created during her reign, the maybe most notable were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, together known as the Oxford Martyrs.
Born in 1487 Hugh Latimer managed to “cover” three Tudor monarchs, and even if he had seen both up´s and downs during the reign of Henry VIII, whom he managed to provoke in the 1520´s by advocating an English translation of the Bible in a time when Tyndale´s translation of the New Testament had just been banned this resulted in a summons before Thomas Wolsey in 1528 who gave him an admonition and a warning. But the tables would soon turn, and as Wolsey fell from grace, the star of Latimer began to rise as he became one of the leading reformers at Cambridge.
In 1535 he was appointed Bishop at Worchester cathedral where he continued to advocate both reformed teachings as well as the destruction of religious icons. In May 1538, he gave the held the last sermon for the Franciscan friar John Forest before the latter was burned at the stake, the downfall of whom had partially, and ironically, been brought about by Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer at the behest of Thomas Cromwell.
But in a fickle world it was only a year later that Latimer himself was sent to the Tower for opposing Henry´s six articles, something which also resulted in Latimer losing his bishopric. In 1546 he was sent back to the Tower for his ideas on reforms, to be released only when Edward VI ascended to the throne. He was restored to favor and was appointed to a position as a court preacher.
Hugh Latimer´s time in the sun was however as short as the reign of Edward, once Mary became Queen and embarked on her mission to restore the catholic faith, his faith was sealed, and he was arrested together with bishop Nicholas Ridley – the only one to be called bishop of London and Westminster – who was a thorn in Mary´s side no only due to his teachings, but also for his support of Lady Jane Grey. He had also been highly involved in the Vestments controversy with John Hooper in the early 1550´s and a written debate between them represent the first written documentation of a split within British Protestantism.
When it became obvious that Edward VI wouldn´t survive his illness, Nicholas Ridley was highly involved in bringing Jane Grey to the throne instead of Edward´s older sister Mary, and on July 9th 1553 he was at St Paul’s Cross, giving a sermon in which he stressed the fact that both daughters of Henry VIII were indeed bastards.
As we all know, support for Jane faded as Mary was advancing towards London, and on the day Mary was proclaimed queen, Nicholas Ridley was arrested and brought to the Tower together with other supporters’ of Lady Jane. The month of February 1554 was spent dealing with the immediate circle around Jane, and several executions took place, including that of Jane herself. When this was over, time had come to deal with the leaders of the English reformation, something Mary obviously wanted nothing to do with. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley was sent to the Bocardo prison in Oxford together with Thomas Cranmer.
Thomas Cranmer had assisted Wolsey in the work to have Henry´s marriage to Katherine of Aragon annulled and was allegedly also the one who came up with the idea to gather the opinion on the marital situation from the universities, something that took him on journeys through a Europe in which some countries had already moved closer to Protestantism, and he got in contact with important figure heads of the reformation, both on this trip and during travels as a resident ambassador to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, nephew of Kathrine of Aragon. In Cranmer´s mission it was included that he should convince Charles to give his acceptance to the divorce, something which never happened.
In 1532 Cranmer was appointed archbishop of Canterbury, and as such he denounced the marriage between Henry and Katherine, going as far as threatening Henry with excommunication if he didn´t stay away from his wife of more than 20 years as well as mother of his only surviving child at this point. This makes it more than credible that when Mary I struck against Cranmer, there was more than accusations of heresy behind her wrath.
During the following years, Cranmer would become closer and closer to Henry, and was involved in the downfall of both Thomas Cromwell and Katherine Howard. He led Edward´s funeral on August 8, and just over a month later he was sent to the Tower, and sentenced to death in November that same year, meaning that Cranmer spent longer time than Ridley and Latimer, who were sentenced in April 1555 and burned at the stake in Oxford on October 16th 1555. Thomas Gardiner had been brought there to watch Latimer and Ridley burn, but he himself wasn´t burned at the stake until six months later on March 21st 1556.
He was however burned in the same spot, and for the three Martyrs a memorial has been erected in Oxford, as well as a cross on Broad Street where the stake is assumed to have been standing.
Thomas Cranmer – Jasper Ridley
Thomas Cranmer, A Life – Diarmaid MacCulloch
Hugh Latimer – Harold S. Darby
Photo: Martyrs Memorial – Ozeye